Sunshine sweep at station
Money twist to Bypass murder
Family dies in fire of hunger
Here come the California clones
The City Diary
Pak traders safe, but stranded
March 31 deadline for tax waiver
Time norms spell trouble
Mamata backs bandh
Nurses slap, abuse patient

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Setting aside ideological differences and political compulsions, the state government and mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Wednesday turned the spotlight back on hawker eviction.

The latest initiative got underway early in the morning when the government activated the police into flushing out the hawkers with their mobile marts and wares from the crowded Sealdah station courtyard and the area surrounding Writers’ Buildings.

The Sealdah station courtyard underwent an unbelievable transformation after the vendors, selling cauliflower to woollens, footwear to hosiery items, were cleared out by policemen armed with water canons, batons and teargas. The ouster was peaceful.

Hours later, mayor Mukherjee made public his decision to defy the Trinamul Congress line and join hands with the ruling communists to remove hawkers from the streets.

Mukherjee also said he would not disclose the date or location of the next drive. “Experience has taught me how my own party, especially founder Mamata Banerjee, frustrates such efforts. I will unveil the plan when I think the time is right.”

The mayor declared that he would stand by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s initiatives on developing Calcutta . “It is just not possible for me to oppose good work only to please my party leadership.”

According to the thousands of Sealdah passengers, it was “a good day’s work” by the government, with the 14,000-sq-m courtyard wearing a clean and spacious look. Divisional railway manager (DRM), Sealdah, D.C. Mitra, said the sprawling courtyard would now be put to use for the benefit of passengers. Schemes on the anvil include relocation of taxi and private car parking bays and beautification of the area. Mitra also said that autorickshaws would not be allowed to enter the station area.

From Wednesday morning, the railway authorities made elaborate police arrangements to ward off untoward incidents at Sealdah. A large contingent from three police stations, jawans of the Eastern Frontier Rifles and Rapid Action Force stood by as the hawkers removed their wares.

The process of Wednesday’s clean-up at Sealdah started on Monday morning when at the chief minister’s insistence, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya met the railway authorities and leaders of Citu’s hawker union. He told the hawkers they would have to clear the station area. The railway authorities offered a 500 sq m space near the Sealdah flyover, where the hawkers could shift temporarily. But DRM Mitra made it clear that permanent relocation was not the railway’s responsibility.

In the next phase, the railway authorities will evict illegal settlers from Lake Gardens station.

A large number of hawkers were also removed from behind Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday. However, some of them, especially the food vendors, staged a quiet comeback at dusk. Business was brisk, as the office crowd stopped by for a bite.The police, however, said they had no reports of the hawkers returning to Writers’.


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
In a new twist to the investigation into the Sanjiv Jhulka case, arrested contract killer Rashid Alam, alias Gabbar, claimed on Wednesday that Ranvijay Rathore had paid him Rs 3.5 lakh for the murder.

Gabbar said Rathore wanted to eliminate Jhulka, who was getting a little too friendly with his fiancee.

While confessing to the crime, Gabbar told the investigators that Rathore offered him the contract after fiancee Trisha began to show signs of reciprocating to Jhulka’s overtures.

“We did not bargain for this. All the while, they (Rathore, Trisha and the others in jail) had been telling us that it was a murder committed in the heat of the moment,’’ a sleuth said.

Jhulka, also known as Bunty, was murdered near a Topsia restaurant on May 22 last year.

Hare Street police sources, quoting interrogation reports, said Rathore and Trisha were friends for the past two years. Both were close to Gabbar.

Bunty, who was married and a father, came in much later. Investigations revealed that Bunty had a disturbed family life.

He grew close to Trisha. Rathore suspected him of having an affair with her and conveyed his misgivings to Gabbar, who warned Bunty to stay away. Bunty broke away from the group. Rathore then gave Gabbar the contract money.

Rathore asked Bunty to come to a Topsia restaurant and iron out the differences. Gabbar arrived half an hour after Bunty. They took him to a waiting car and sped off towards the Bypass.

There, they shot Bunty and abandoned the car with the body in the Taltala area.

Police said even Fatman, arrested a month later, and Trisha were not aware of the contract to kill Bunty.

Adding to the drama, trouble broke out at Hare Street police station on Wednesday when Gabbar and Sona, arrested on Sunday, came to blows and even threatened to kill each other. The force has been beefed up at the police station.


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Hunger drove a young couple and their two children to death. The parents set themselves and the infants on fire at Sodepur, on the northern fringes of Calcutta, early on Wednesday.

Neighbours recovered the charred bodies on Wednesday morning. The hut had been reduced to ashes before fire brigade officials arrived.

Police said all four died on the spot before the neighbours could attempt to rescue them. However, a probe is underway to ascertain the circumstances that led to the tragedy. The victims were identified as Ramu Das, 35, Manu, 28, and their children Raju, 4, and Pinki, 2.

Elaborating on the reason behind the tragedy, police said hunger might have driven the family to suicide. “Ramu rented the hut barely a year ago. He was a daily labourer and had been in dire straits for the past few years. He had borrowed from his neighbours to feed his family,” said an officer of Ghola police station.

Neighbour Ratan Karmakar echoed the view. “The family would spend days on a single meal. Ramu had no money to buy milk for his two-year-old daughter Pinki. Sometimes, he would borrow money from us to feed the children,” Ratan said.

Preliminary police investigation reveals the fire did not spread gradually. It was a big blaze that razed the hut. “We suspect kerosene was sprinkled in the hut and on its wall before it was set alight. That is why the blaze was so devastating,” said a police officer.

Neighbours said the fire broke out around 3 am on Wednesday. “We heard the cries and rushed to the hut. The sightwas horrible…. The hut was in flames and the couple was screaming. There was no way we could enter,” said Sunirmal Biswas, who lives in the area.

The residents of two adjacent houses managed to vacate their premises before the flames could spread. The hut was charred within half-an-hour, though witnesses tried to douse the flames with buckets of water.

“Initially, we were numb with shock. Then we sent for the fire brigade, but as time was running out, we started drawing water from the nearby tubewells. But that was not enough. The flames spread fast and the family died in front of our eyes,” said Indranil Das, another neighbour.

The firemen arrived in six engines, but by then, the hut had been reduced to rubble.

“The devastation was comlete in a few minutes. Blankets and woollens helped the flames spread fast. We could only recover the four charred bodies,” said a fire brigade officer.


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
He turned up at one of their concerts in LA, loved every minute of it and told the foursome: “Keep up the great work, guys.”

Coming from Sir Paul McCartney, it was the ultimate pat on the back for “the finest Beatles tribute band in the world”.

Now, Revolution is ready to rock Calcutta. The California-based group has two performances lined up, at Saturday Club on January 18 and Tollygunge Club on January 20.

Arriving in Mumbai on January 18, the 15-year-old band (which has played at Tom Hanks’ 10th wedding anniversary party, the Bob Hope Worldwide Television Special and The Legends in Concert, Las Vegas, besides featuring in a film on Linda McCartney) will fly straight to Calcutta for the two shows.

From here, they will head back to Bangalore, where they had played last year, too.

“Bangalore was talking about them for six months after the Golf Course concert. This time, Calcutta was preferred over some other cities as it’s more happening in terms of music,” says Ajit Saldanha of Eventually, the event management agency bringing the California quartet down for the two-city tour.

“Calcuttans have an appreciation for musically-relevant performers and the city also has vibrant club culture,” adds Saldanha.

Sales figures for the Fab Four in Calcutta reflect the same enthusiasm. “The Beatles are one of the consistent sellers,” comments Dipra Jha, store-head and area manager, operations, MusicWorld, which even created a separate rack of cassettes and CDs in response to popular demand.

“Most albums have a shelf life, but The Beatles have been selling year after year.” Among the most popular albums at the Park Street music store are One, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

Now, Revolution will be belting out Beatles tracks from all these albums and much more. Their club concerts will include songs from the Ed Sullivan and Abbey Road days, capped off by Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

They have all the pop hits in their repertoire, from Hard Day’s Night to Yesterday and I am the Walrus to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

“The resemblance is so shocking that the experience is very authentic and moving,” says Saldanha.

Tim Piper is John Lennon; Greg Piper is George Harrison; Tim Neil is Paul McCartney and James Paul Marsala is Ringo Starr.

Their obsession with the Beatles has prompted them to get the look of their legendary heroes right — plastic surgery, wigs, costumes, and all.

Lead Tim Piper played Lennon in NBC’s A Day in the Life: The John Lennon Story. He also appeared in a laser display as the Beatles founder at Smithsonian Gallery’s Faces of Time exhibit of 100 Faces of the Millennium.



Fake ticket-checkers caught on board

Vigilance officials of Eastern Railways arrested four fake ticket-checkers in a Bongaon-bound local train on Wednesday morning. All four were handed over to the Government Railway Police. D.C. Mitra, divisional railway manager, Sealdah, said the vigilance officials, who were travelling in the train posing as ticketless passengers, caught the four youth red-handed. One of them had asked the vigilance officials to pay a penalty. Police recovered fake identity cards, ticket punching machines and penalty receipt books from them.

Mayor talks tough on taxes

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has directed the water supply department to disconnect filtered water supply lines to houses which were not paying up outstanding civic taxes. There are over 1.5 lakh defaulting landlords, including a number of business establishments, in the city. The mayor has asked all the borough chairmen to prepare a list of defaulters in their respective borough areas. Owners of illegally constructed apartments in the colony areas will “face the treatment” unless they get their flats mutated immediately, the mayor added.

Fog delay

Dense fog in Delhi disrupted air traffic between Calcutta and Delhi for the second successive day on Wednesday. Delhi-bound planes of Indian Airlines and Jet Air left Calcutta after 11.30 am. The morning flight from Delhi reached Calcutta six hours behind schedule, at 3.30 pm.

Power theft

The CESC, with the help of the police, disconnected about 300 power supply lines in Calcutta on Wednesday. Of these, 250 were in makeshift shops in the Sealdah station area.

Road accident

A 45-year-old employee of the postal services was seriously injured on Wednesday morning when a Maruti van knocked him down on Deshapran Sashmal Road. Police said Subol Sarder, the injured, was hit by the vehicle when he was trying to cross the road. Sarder was admitted to MR Bangur Hospital, where his condition was stated to be critical. The driver managed to flee with his vehicle.

Factory demolished

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) demolished an unauthorised factory on Chawlpatti Road, in the Beleghata police station area, on Wednesday afternoon. The owner of the factory was also arrested. According to CMC officials, the owner had been running the rubber goods manufacturing factory for the past few years without the CMC’s permission. There was no resistance from the employees when a team went to demolish the factory.

Train stop

lThe Howrah-bound Saraighat Express, which runs between Howrah and Guwahati, will stop at New Cooch Behar for two minutes on January 3, 4 and 7 to help passengers as Uttarbanga Express and Teesta Torsa Express have been cancelled.

Shanty death

A 40-year-old man was killed when a lorry rammed into a roadside shanty at Shibpur, in Howrah, on Wednesday. Police said the accident occurred early in the morning when Nabakumar Singh, the victim, was asleep. Singh was taken to Howrah General Hospital, where the doctors pronounced him dead. Police impounded the vehicle but the driver managed to flee.

Ranchi airlink

Calcutta and Ranchi will be linked by air from January 4 with the introduction of a four-days-a-week flight by Alliance Air. The flight CD 7412 on the Calcutta-Ranchi-Patna-Lucknow-Delhi route will operate four days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, departing from Calcutta at 8 am to arrive at Ranchi at 8.50 am. The flight will leave Ranchi at 9.20 am to arrive at Patna at 10.05 am, depart from Patna at 10.35 am and reach Lucknow at 11.30 am. It will leave Lucknow at 12 noon to reach Delhi at 12.50 pm. The return flight will also operate four days a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.


A man was seriously injured when residents of Saradapalli, in Barasat, beat him up for trying to pass off a fake 500-rupee note at a local grocery shop. The shop-owner became suspicious and raised an alarm. He was handed over to the police.    

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
The fair is over, the buyers and sellers are gone, the stalls have been dismantled. But two days after the Industrial India Trade Fair (IITF) ended, six stalls still stand on the deserted ‘book fair’ grounds of the Maidan, catering to a steady flow of Calcuttans.

All these stalls belong to businessmen from Pakistan, waiting for a diplomatic thaw between the two neighbours to allow them a safe passage back home. Till the uncertainty ends, some of the visitors have decided to make the best of their extended stay.

But I.S. Kapoor, from Karachi, decided to take the first flight out of confusion. Along with son Rehan and an employee, Kapoor left for Delhi on Wednesday morning after selling his stock of hand-woven fabric at throw-away prices on Tuesday.

“Kapoor had plans to take part in the Bidhannagar Mela from January 18, but family members back home wanted him to cut short his stay. He is now trying to take the special flight for Pakistan High Commission staffers,” said R.S. Rehman, sitting outside his Maidan stall, watching the rest of the tents being dismantled and all the stuff being carried away.

“On Tuesday, we had opened our shops to pack the unsold stuff, but then customers kept dropping in. We are doing some business, but most of the people coming to us are quoting ridiculously low prices. They are under the impression that we will go in for a distress sale in view of the pressure on us to leave this country at the earliest,” said Md. Saleem Khan of Marhaba Gift Arcade.

But Khan, a regular at Indian trade fairs since 1995, is hardly in distress-sell mood. “I am confident of being back in Calcutta next year and so would rather keep the stuff in a local warehouse,” he said.

Khan, Rehman and Shaikh Asif Khushnood were united in their tribute to Calcutta. “Our predicament would have been quite different if we had been stranded in Delhi or Mumbai. We probably would have had to shut shop following the rise in tension between India and Pakistan. But we didn’t face any problem here in Calcutta. The people have been wonderful and the sate government has made it possible for us to use Calcutta, not Delhi, as an exit point,” said Khan, before heading off to meet his travel agent and discuss plans to reach Pakistan, probably via Dubai or Colombo.

Khan is cutting short his stay in India following the December 13 attack on Parliament and the resulting tension between the two neighbours. But Rehman and Khushnood have got their visas extended till January 14, 2002 to make arrangements for packing and storing the unsold stuff.

“We are expecting the SAARC conference in Kathmandu and the pressure from the international community will help in diffusing the crisis. This will allow us to participate in the Bidhannagar Mela,” they said.

From the business standpoint, the Pakistani stalls at the 11-day Maidan fair drew a mixed response. The over-the-counter sales were encouraging, but bulk orders were conspicuous by their absence. “In comparison to corporate orders touching Rs 2 to 3 million earlier, we have been left high and dry this year,” complained Rehman, leader of the Pakistani delegation.


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
The state government on Wednesday decided to extend to March 31 the date for paying interest-free arrear house tax in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) area.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee expects the move will help the civic body mop up an extra Rs 100 crore. About 80 per cent of the total applications, which have not been sorted out in the past eight months, will now be looked into, he said.

“More than Rs 20 crore were deposited after the interest-waiver scheme was launched and the applications yet to be sorted out involve more than Rs 100 crore,” the mayor said.

But officers in the revenue department are not as optimistic about the sum. They say the civic authorities will find it difficult to raise more than Rs 30 crore, as a wide “racket” operates in the revenue department. They also accused Mukherjee of not “monitoring” the progress of the scheme. A section of staff in the revenue and assessment department encouraged the piling-up of house tax arrears, the officials said.

“These unscrupulous employees accept money from house-owners and omit their names during periodic inspections. Besides, they have not responded to house-owners who want to avail of the scheme,” said a senior official in the revenue department.

For instance, one Biswajit Kanjilal (assessee no. 12-014-03-0133-4), who had applied for the scheme on September 9, is yet to receive a feedback, the official said.

“He met the revenue officers in October, November and December and was harassed each time. Samik Bhattacharya, another applicant with a job in Delhi, applied for the scheme in August. He, too, has not received any feedback to date. On December 5, an assistant assessor and collector advised him to meet one Sabyasachibabu in the revenue department who, in turn, told him he did not know anything about the application,” the official added.

This is the second time the government has conceded to the mayor’s request for an extension of the deadline to the waiver scheme. Last year, about 1.5 lakh house-owners in the CMC area were listed owing over Rs 300 crore as civic tax. Some of them had been eluding their tax for decades.

Mukherjee then took up the matter with the government, suggesting that there might be a positive response from defaulters if the interest on their arrears was waived. The government set September 15 as the last date for paying up the taxes. But, as preparing the papers took time and the initial response was lukewarm, the mayor sought an extension. Subsequently, the deadline was extended to December 31.


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
All the major employees’ unions in Calcutta University (CU), barring the one controlled by the CPM, appear to be bracing for a showdown with the government over the enforcement of the newly-introduced stricter attendance norms.

Two of them, Intuc-controlled Calcutta University Karmachari Samity (CUKS) and the Calcutta University Employees’ Unity Centre (CUEUC), a Naxalite organisation, said on Wednesday that they would decide on their agenda at a joint meeting on Thursday.

On Tuesday, a large section of CU employees ceased work for a few hours, in response to a call by the two unions. The employees demanded compensation for working an extra half-an-hour.

According to Buddhadeb Chattopadhyay, convener of CUEUC, Tuesday’s ceasework received an “overwhelming response” from all sections of employees.

“The new attendance register does not have a separate column for half-day casual leave. This will lead to complications,” Chattopadhyay pointed out.

“We do not mind reporting for duty half an hour earlier. But the authorities must explain what prompted them to increase the working hours,” said Swapan Bose, secretary of CUKS.

Both unions have demanded medical benefits, dearness allowance and career advancement prospects at par with other government employees.

The university authorities claimed that over 95 per cent of employees and officers had attended to duty on time both on Tuesday and Wednesday. Apart from attendance norms, CU has also increased its working hours by 30 minutes, directing the employees to report for duty at 10 am sharp.

Henceforth, anyone reporting after 10.15 am will be marked late and absent after 10.45 am. To leave office by 5.30 pm, employees will have to sign the register after 5.15 pm. The previous rule directed one to report at 10.30 am. Employees would be marked absent if they reported at 1 pm.

“No slackness at any level will be tolerated. The supervisory staff have been asked to remain extra cautious. They must maintain discipline themselves and be punctual to enforce discipline on others,” a university spokesman told mediapersons on Wednesday.


Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Mamata Banerjee has decided to support the January 10 Bangla bandh called by the SUCI to protest the government’s decision to raise electricity and hospital charges and ban road and rail blockades.

“Despite ideological differences, we shall morally support the SUCI’s bandh since this has been called to highlight the people’s cause,” the Trinamul Congress leader told a news conference hours after a marathon meeting of the party’s executive committee.

SUCI state secretary Pravas Ghosh tonight claimed that he also had the support of grassroots workers of the CPM and other Left parties. “The bandh will be a spontaneous protest against the ruling CPM,” he added.

Mamata unveiled a month-long jail bhoro (law violation movement) programme starting January 8 to protest the CPM’s “misrule” in Bengal. She said party workers would court arrest across the state.

The Trinamul leader announced that the party would hold a two-day state council meeting at Digha on January 19 and 20. This will be followed by a meeting of the party’s national executive at Talkatora stadium in New Delhi in March.

“The move is aimed at expanding the party’s base beyond Bengal and this is the first that the national executive meet is being held in the capital,” said a Trinamul functionary.

Asked to comment on suspended party MP Ajit Panja’s decision to launch a party unit in New Delhi, Trinamul leader said: “Let him do whatever he likes, we wouldn’t like to comment since he is suspended from the organisation,” he added.

The CPM central committee will hold a three-day meeting in Calcutta beginning Friday.


Malda, Jan. 2: 
A woman in labour was slapped and abused by nurses who refused to take her to the labour room for delivery and forced her to crawl there immediately after the child was born.

Sakina Bibi, who was admitted to the maternity ward of the Malda Sadar Hospital on December 26, gave birth to her daughter the same night on the hospital bed after the nurses on duty ignored her cries to be taken to the labour room.

Once the child was born and even before the umbilical chord was cut, the nurses ordered Sakina to carry her to the labour room.

“But I pleaded with them that I was in terrible pain and it was not possible for me to lift the child and walk. At this, she (one of the nurses) abused me. I felt helpless and tried to get off the bed with the infant, but fell down on the ground,” Sakina said in her complaint to police and the hospital superintendent.

When she fell down, one of the nurses slapped her hard and continued to abuse her. Then the nurse severed the umbilical cord and took the baby away for cleaning. “While going towards the labour room, the nurse told me, ‘if you can’t stand, then crawl after me’. Finding no other alternative, I obeyed her,” Sakina said. When she crawled in to the labour room, another nurse of “short height” slapped her.

In her complaint, filed after she was discharged on Monday, Sakina said two other patients in the maternity ward were witness to the “torture”. I don’t know the names of the two nurses. But, I will be able to identify them,” she said. Sakina added that she had not complained while she was in hospital because she feared “further torture”.

Two days after she complained, no action has been taken against the nurses. The incident comes at a time when chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is trying to to restore discipline in hospitals.

Sakina has faxed copies of her complaints to the district police superintendent, district magistrate, chief medical officer of health in Malda and the chief minister.

Hospital superintendent Manicklal Das said: “I have sought a detailed report on what exactly had happened on that night in the maternity ward and the labour room. The nature of the complaint is serious.”

Malda SP Pankaj Dutta said police had started an inquiry.


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